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Transport / More bus trips proposed to and from Sumburgh Airport

A more ‘comprehensive’ timetable also mooted for the town service bus, including extra stops at the college

The Viking bus station. Photo: Shetland News/Hans J Marter

BUS services to and from Sumburgh Airport could improve from August, with connections set to nearly double in frequency.

A new range of bus contracts due to come into force in mid-August are likely to see connections to/from the airport increase from seven to 13 southbound, while northbound they will increase from seven to 14.

The Lerwick town service, meanwhile, “has been modified to provide a more comprehensive and frequent set of connections around Lerwick, most notably nine connections to the college over the length of the day”.

Officers at Shetland’s transport partnership ZetTrans believe enhancing both services will lead to increased income.

Exact details of how services in other areas of Shetland could look under the new contracts have not been revealed.

Members of ZetTrans and the full council will be asked to back the award of contracts for public bus transport, as well as school and adult social care transport, at meetings on Thursday.

Officers say it is hard to precisely estimate the increased income which could come with enhancing service six, which runs from Lerwick to Sumburgh.

However, “it is reasonable to expect a significant increase in journeys to 2,500 additional return trips leading to an increase in income of £14,500 at current fares”, ZetTrans lead officer Michael Craigie wrote in his report.

It will also see an earlier start to enable workers to get to Sumburgh Airport.

“Officials are in dialogue with Loganair and HIAL on opportunities for further funding support from each of the organisations reflecting the benefits each receives through the enhanced Sumburgh service that arises from ZetTrans/Shetland Islands Council’s investment,” Craigie added.

The issue of bus services to Sumburgh has been subject to increased focus since operator Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) launched car parking charges in 2018, with calls from some for a dedicated airport bus.

There are currently around 115,000 passenger journeys on the number six service each year, of which around 10,000 are to/from Sumburgh Airport, but it is thought there is “suppressed demand” from flight passengers – with more bus runs likely to result in more usage.

It is also estimated that £12,600 in additional income, meanwhile, could come from an enhanced town service, which has seen demand drop in recent years.

The procurement exercise for all of the bus contracts resulted in contracts totalling £4.8 million annually, which is £473,040 less than the current target budget for 2020/21.

There had been a hope to save £500,000 on the contracts, but with officers predicting an increase of £45,000 in additional revenue, overall savings are set to come to £516,094.

It is thought that extra revenue could come in as a result of improvements to travel information, travel planning capability and active and sustainable travel initiatives.

If councillors give the plans the go-ahead, the 104 contracts will be offered individually or in packages to 15 operators. The largest award to one operator would be a total contract award valued at £1.064 million per annum for 20 contracts.

The current contracts for the school and public bus services expire on 16 August.